Especially in the cold season, many people turn to dietary supplements. According to the survey, every second person takes vitamins. But are dietary supplements really always useful? No, warns an expert. Some can even be hazardous to your health.
They now occupy huge shelves in discounters, supermarkets and pharmacies: food supplements. They promise more beautiful skin, an immune system booster, some even claim they could cure corona or cancer. But what is true? And when is it dangerous to take it? A check.
You have to differentiate fundamentally, explains pharmacologist Martin Smollich to FOCUS online: “Some dietary supplements make sense, some are pointless (but harmless), and some can even be dangerous.”
Smollich cites the following as examples of useful dietary supplements:
Nevertheless, he emphasizes: “Don’t just take dietary supplements, but talk to your doctor first.” This applies above all if there are symptoms that you think are due to a deficiency: “Those who are tired and listless have pain or has other symptoms, should not try self-therapy, but first have the symptoms clarified by a doctor. This also prevents potentially serious causes from being overlooked!”
Prof. Dr. re. of course Martin Smollich is a specialist pharmacist for clinical pharmacy, head of the Pharmakonutrition working group at the Institute for Nutritional Medicine, University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein, Campus Lübeck and extraordinary member of the Drug Commission since 2016.
The main danger, according to Smollich, is overdose. It poses serious health risks. Specifically, he mentions the following:
The consumer advice center also warns: “In high doses, dietary supplements can often have serious side effects and even lead to dangerous interactions when taken together with medication.” A spokeswoman criticized in an interview with FOCUS online: “Consumers often have no idea of the many loopholes in the law! “
The problem: Dietary supplements are officially food, not medicine. Accordingly, there are no legal requirements, such as maximum quantities, purity requirements or quality standards. They do not have to be approved, are therefore not checked and controls are only carried out on a random basis.
As a result, many dietary supplements harbor risks, as studies by the consumer advice center show. For the so-called market checks, the experts always examine several dietary supplements that are freely available in drugstores, in markets or online:
(Follow the links for more detailed information from the consumer advice center and the tested products)
Smollich therefore recommends: “If you take food supplements without a medical reason, you should make sure not to use high-dose preparations.” The information on the packaging and the recommendations of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment serve as a check.
The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment recommends the following maximum amounts:
In addition to the (frequently false) health promises, there is another misconception: When in doubt, food supplements are “expensive urine” – vitamins or minerals that are not needed are simply peed out again. This actually applies to some vitamins, such as vitamin C.
But it’s not that simple, as the example of vitamin D shows. It is poorly soluble in water, so it is not easily excreted in the urine. Instead, it can lead to an overdose and thereby excessive calcium levels. Called “hypercalcemia,” it can even cause serious heart problems.
In September, the case of a baby caused a stir. The seven-month-old ended up in intensive care because of vitamin D poisoning. His parents had initially provided him with the medically prescribed vitamin D prophylaxis, but then, on the advice of friends, switched to a highly concentrated dietary supplement from the Internet. The result: the calcium levels in the blood and kidneys shot up, and the baby was poisoned.
The German poison information center also recorded more inquiries about the receipt of high-dose vitamin D preparations last year. According to the director, this may be related to Corona and the belief that vitamin D protects better against infections. There are no verifiable studies on this. Smollich also says: “Miraculous effects are not to be expected from vitamin D – in this respect the boom (mainly due to Corona) is not justified.”
Experts like Smollich, but also the consumer advice center, have been calling for legally binding maximum quantities for a long time. “In other EU countries, this has long been the norm,” criticizes Smollich. “Uniform EU regulations have also been blocked by Germany in the past.”
The spokeswoman for the consumer advice center adds: “Consumers must be able to trust that food, including food supplements, is safe, that controls are carried out and that these also have consequences.” They therefore demand: “Binding maximum quantity regulations for vitamins and minerals, regulations for plant-based products, national testing procedures for dietary supplements, and a public reporting agency for side effects and interactions.”
The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety had already announced that food supplements would become a stronger focus of official food monitoring.